If you read some of the newspaper accounts of the portable video scene suddenly re-thrust in the spotlight due to Apple's long-speculated introduction of the video iPod, you'd think it's all the same: Video iPod, cell phones with video, portable game players, it's all video on-the-go.
But look closely, and there's a big difference. Apple's video iPod got it right, with 320 x 240 QVGA resolution, at 30 fps. That's television. Anybody remember back in the early days of DSS satellite-TV (DirecTV), when they transmitted in 352 x 240 MPEG-1 format? And they boasted of crystal clear digital picture quality? Back in 1993, QSIF (different from QVGA in that non-square pixels are used) was so viable for living room TV viewing that DSS was the most successful new product launch in consumer electronics history.
Compare iPod's screen specs with cell phone video screens: Verizon's V CAST service runs at 176 x 132 resolution, with 15 frame per second encoding. Do the math: That's roughly only 15% as much video information as the iPod, under ideal conditions (assuming all the frames actually make it to the phone -- typically, they don't.)
Apple also finally has a captive market for its long competitive, yet "also ran" QuickTime video compression format. Nice move, though of course, Windows Media video files have been playable on portable media players for years. And speaking of captive markets, Apple has brilliantly ensured that all new iPod buyers will have video capability, by not offering it as an option. All new full-size iPods will have video, from this point forward.
But it's not the hardware, which has been available elsewhere for some time, that makes portable video a la Apple different now. And it's not the codec either.
Apple has something that connects to the hardware that Bill Gates dreams of: The delivery mechanism -- an already-popular destination web site for buying entertainment. Combined with Apple's deal with one of the major TV networks -- ABC -- to distribute programming, which many industry observers are hailing as a watershed event that finally breaks the stranglehold of the network affiliates and opens up network TV programming to "new media" distribution -- it looks like portable video is finally going mainstream.
What do you think of Apple's new video-capable iPod? Will portable video take off? Share your thoughts, and see what others think, in our Video/Imaging DesignLine Forums.
Cliff Roth is Video/Imaging DesignLine Site Editor.